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Renewing the soil

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Why I see gardening as a reminder of my humanity

When I was a kid my family had a decent-sized backyard that included a fairly large vegetable garden, complete with carrots, corn, strawberries, raspberries, and several other varieties of fresh produce. In the spring, summer, and fall, I spent every moment that I could outside, digging in the dirt, splashing in the water, and waiting for the plants to grow and ripen. I’ll never forget the thrill of pulling bright orange carrots out of the soil and running them over to the hose, eager to bite into their sweet crunchiness. They had a flavor that I’ve yet to find anywhere else. Every once in awhile when I buy whole organic carrots I get a reminder of those moments — a brief glimmer of how food is supposed to taste — but usually I settle for marginal produce, allowing processing and packaging plants and grocery store workers to put yet another degree of separation between me and the soil my food was grown in.

And for a good number of years, this didn’t bother me. My family stopped gardening long before I entered jr high, and I never gave much thought to where my food came from. What’s more, I stopped spending so much time outside. I stopped trying to dig to China. I stopped watching worms wiggle around in freshly turned soil. I spent my time indoors, studying and trying to avoid getting dirty. Eventually, I lost touch with the earth. I’m not trying to sound like a tree-hugger or anything, but I think this matters. I think it matters because the earth sustains us. Grocery stores and fast food restaurants make this easy to forget, but really we are connected to the earth. We came from dirt and we need it to survive. We need it because it helps produce plants, and plants not only feed us but they affect the health of our atmosphere and influence our weather.

It amazes me when I read stories about families in Africa and other parts of the world who are literally dependant on the ground. Learning to garden is saving their lives, and changing climates are influencing their ability to do this effectively. I’m inspired by how hard the families in these countries work —literally just to have a little bit of food to give their children. Their stories force me to face my own humanity; to own up to the fact that I am also dependent; I’m dependent on the earth, and I’m dependent on those who work the soil. By giving me an opportunity to see where my food is grown and to experience the work involved in encouraging growth, gardening also reminds me of this.

Two years ago, I started gardening again. My mom and I have a little, rectangular plot of ground in her backyard where we plant a small variety of veggies each summer. Originally, I started helping her with the garden because I found it therapeutic. I was burnt out from studying in college and tired of feeling that most of my efforts had little lasting impact. All in all, I felt broken. But being outside close to nature helped to restore me, and it helped to renew my appreciation for creation.  I got dirty again, and found that there was something healing about removing the separation between myself and nature.

I was reminded of this just a few weeks ago as we prepared the soil for this year’s plants. Abandoning my gardening clogs I stepped into the garden with bare feet, allowing the dirt to squish between my toes and cake itself on to the bottom of my feet. As I hacked at the ground with a gardening hoe, I stopped to watch worms again. Ugly as they are, I was amazed at how their bodies work, and thankful that they were in my garden, because I knew they would help to keep the soil healthy. And I was amazed, because the intricate design of a worm is simply one example of the beauty of creation.

And that’s the other reason it think it matters that we somehow stay connected to the earth: it’s God’s creation. It is beautiful, and it is a reflection of him. It is vitally important to remember that the world is a gift from God, because when I remember this, I will treat the earth differently. When I hold this view, I recognize that to mistreat creation is to show disrespect to the creator. I am called to care for — not simply use and abuse — the earth. Gardening helps to remind me of this. And what’s more, I am called to follow in the footsteps of the creator — to enter into a broken world and find ways to create beauty out of chaos. Gardening is one way to do this. In a chaotic world where we typically don’t know who grew our food and sometimes forget that it came from the ground, gardening allows us to create a tangible reminder that we need God’s help, even with our daily sustenance. It serves as an opportunity to renew a piece of our fallen world and acknowledge the one who has the power to make plants grow.

Here are a few pictures of the start of this year’s garden. I’ll continue to provide updates–both on the progress of my plants and on what I’m learning in the process.

The soil, all prepped for planting.


Carrot and beet seeds hidden in the soil.



Written by liferenewed

May 13, 2010 at 4:26 am

Posted in Gardening, Life lessons